Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View: Both Universal and Local Churches
By Kent in Kent Brandenburg
The word “church” in the English translation of the New Testament, like Nine Marks wrote in its online article by Jonathan Leeman, means “assembly.” “Universal assembly” is an oxymoron, yet still firmly held by Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, and fundamentalists against its incoherence and contradiction. Why? How?Neoplatonism is a philosophical and religious system, beginning with the work of Plotinus in c. 245 AD, that analyzes and teaches interpretations of the philosophy and theology of Plato, and which extended the interpretations of Plato that middle Platonists developed from 80 BC to 220 AD.Neoplatonism is a non-theistic philosophical spirituality. It became, however, part of institutional Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and then came out the other end in the Protestant Reformation. The universal church is not scriptural. It’s obviously a neoplatonic concept.
With Plotinus, individual souls, the temporal, resided within the soul, the eternal one. The insecurity of the individual souls give undo attention to bodily concerns. Love becomes a lower love, appetite, out of which proceeds moral evil. The individual soul loses unity and goodness. A tension exists in the soul between what is above and is eternal and that below and temporal. Purity relates to the hierarchy from eternal to temporal, the eternal being one and the temporal being individual and particular. Good is a return to the One, which is defined in mystical terms. [Understanding of Neoplatonism taken from a course on Philosophy by Arthur Holmes, video 19]
Augustine thought that scripture was divinely inspired but being part of the temporal, finite world, it was susceptible to corruption. Augustine took this neoplatonism as his explanation of a Catholic church, when challenged by the Donatists. The Donatists claimed the true church was local by which it kept itself separate from communion with the world. For Augustine the true church was spread throughout the world.
The Donatists asked Augustine how that the church could be Catholic or universal if there were unbelievers in it. He answered in neoplatonic fashion that there were two churches, the visible and the invisible. The invisible, the one, was pure, and the visible or particular had corruption. Augustine’s neoplatonic church was spread throughout time and rooted in eternity. This reflects his neoplatonism with purity in the One and the mystical, a kind of ontological church. It is not a church though. A church is visible and local, and as an assembly, it assembles.
According to Peter Brown in his biography of Augustine, Augustine brought to the masses “the esoteric truth of Plato” (p. 221). Augustine was impressed by Ambrose’s rhetorical technique when he delivered sermons, which were carefully modeled on Cicero and influenced by the contemporary exponents of Plato, the Neoplatonists (p. 61). In his writings, Augustine borrowed freely from Plato and Plotinus (p. 486). When Augustine argued (The Works of St. Augustine) for the universal church to the Donatist, he relied on kingdom predictions of the Old Testament, such as Psalm 2:7-8, and a catholic church as the fulfillment, where the Messiah ruled over the world in a mystical manner (Letter 49:2, Sermon 47:17, Sermon 129:5-6). This invented amillennialism as a teaching. From the New Testament, he contended that the seven churches of the letters in Revelation 2-3 are universal due to the symbolism of the number 7 (Sermon 229J:5).
You do not see a universal church in the Bible. This mystical interpretation of scripture corresponds to the allegorical interpretation of Origen beset and popularized in Roman Catholicism through neoplatonic theologians, such as Ambrose and Augustine. They could explain the Roman Catholic Church as the true church, which is also the spiritualized fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies in the Old Testament. This view of the kingdom became called, amillennialism, which was later systematized into covenant theology.
Reading Plato into the Bible is also eisegesis. Universal church can’t be read out of the Bible, so it is read into it. Instead of taking a singular noun as a generic usage, it imagines a mystical or platonic usage. You can see that neoplatonism affected every doctrine in Roman Catholicism and then Eastern Orthodoxy. It is now borrowed in the teaching of Jordan Peterson among others, who do not present a biblical view of Christianity. It allows for someone to read almost anything he wants into the BIble.
At salvation, God did raise us up and seat us in heaven spiritually, as Leeman asserts, but that is not membership in a universal church. It is adoption into the family of God. A person spiritually becomes a brother or sister in Christ. This family relationship does not depend on geographical boundaries or locality like an assembly does. Someone can have a father, who lives a thousand miles away, and he’s still his father.
Leeman says that the “universal church is in heaven.” If the entire “universal church” is in heaven, then it isn’t universal. It is in a location, whether someone believes that is a church or not. It can’t be universal, if it is in one location.
Leeman also writes that this heavenly church is the one Jesus promises to build in Matthew 16:18. A wrong understanding of “build” contributes to a wrong understanding of the nature of church. The Greek word translated “will build” in Matthew 16:18 is oikodomeo, which is mainly translated “to edify” through the New Testament, so the understanding is “I will edify my church” or “I will build up my church.” The sense of “build” that Leeman gives is adding to the numbers in this heavenly city or church. When Jesus said He would edify or build up His church, He’s saying more than that. He is going to add the offices of the pastor and deacons. He will add the Lord’s Table and church discipline. The Lord Jesus will provide the book of Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation. He will give to the church what it needs to prevail against the gates of hell.
At the time Jesus said, I will build my church, there was one church. It wasn’t in heaven. It was in Jerusalem. He would build up that church in Jerusalem, but His church as an institution, which is always on earth. I’m not saying there won’t be an assembly in heaven. It’s just that Jesus was talking about His assembly that functions on earth. The Jerusalem church would reproduce other churches, other assemblies, by fulfilling the Great Commission, which Jesus also added to the church in Matthew 28:18-20 and the version of that in the other Gospels. Each of those churches is still His church.
Leeman must assume that when Jesus says “church” in Matthew 16:18 and means something mystical and heavenly spread out over a large expanse of space and time that His disciples thought that’s what “assembly” (ekklesia) meant. It doesn’t register to him with his presuppositions that they wouldn’t think like Plato, like Augustine and then Jonathan Leeman would. When Jesus a very short while later talks about bringing evidence for discipline of someone to the church in Matthew 18:15-17, that His disciple audience could make that jump from Platonic to Aristotelian in that moment, from the universal to the particular. Were they bringing a church member to a universal church? They were so tuned into Greek philosophy, that when Jesus meant church in Matthew 18 in a totally different way than in Matthew 16, they automatically knew that? Amazing, huh?
[From WHAT IS TRUTH, September 7, 2022. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 1
Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 3
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